NEPTUNE - For the first 16 minutes of its season, which began Friday at Marlboro High School, the Neptune boys basketball season got a taste of how difficult life can be as a favorite to win the rough-and-tumble Shore Conference Class A North.

During the final 16 minutes, the Scarlet Fliers showed why they are considered one of the favorites.

Seniors Jared Kimbrough and Scott Fields scored 11 points each and Neptune - the No. 4 team in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 - overcame an eight-point deficit early in the second half to beat Marlboro, 44-37, to start the season on a winning note.

"I told the guys yesterday, 'You're going to come here and you're going to have to earn it,'" Neptune coach Joe Fagan said. "And they did - they earned it. That was as good a team win as I've had at Neptune. Everybody contributed something."

Neptune senior Scott Fields. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Neptune senior Scott Fields. (Photo by Matt Manley)

All of Kimbrough's points came in the second half and he also added eight rebounds and four blocks. Fields chipped in six rebounds and three steals and junior Dwain Jones poured in 10 points for Neptune, including a pair of first-quarter three-pointers.

"We had to come out and get off to a good start," Kimbrough said. "We have to come out and play like this every game. We have big expectations, but we're going to be playing good teams every night so we need to be able to play with the same kind of intensity we had tonight, especially in the second half."

Neptune fell behind 23-15 early in the third quarter, but went on an 18-4 run to surge ahead, 33-27. Marlboro scored the first six points of the game and did not give up the lead until Scarlet Fliers freshman Sam Fagan knocked down a three-pointer from the right corner to give his team a 28-27 lead with under two minutes to play in the third quarter.

Marlboro rallied to tie the game at 33-33, but Kimbrough and Fields combined for three baskets on three straight trips to make it 39-37. Jones hit Fields for the go-ahead lay-up with a little more than 2:30 to play and then Kimbrough converted a three-point play with just under a minute to make it 42-37.

Kimbrough, who is signed to play at LaSalle next year, got off to a shaky start in 2017-18 by shooting 0-for-3 in the first half, picking up two fouls before halftime and missing a dunk on his first second-half attempt. The 6-8 senior, however, responded by scoring eight points during a stretch of a little more than four minutes, capped fittingly by a two-handed slam on a feed from Fagan.

Senior Jawan Wilkins also helped out with five points, five rebounds and three assists off the bench for the Scarlet Fliers.

Marlboro's 2-3 zone with 6-5 Justin Marcus and 6-6 Dylan Kaufman down low kept Neptune away from the basket during the first half, but the Scarlet Fliers started to find the openings in the defense in the second half.

"In the first half, at the bottom of the zone, we didn't really see the openings," Kimbrough said. "Coach talked to us at halftime, told us we need to get in the gaps a little bit more and as soon as we get in the gaps, we'll get buckets, and that's exactly what happened."

Neptune's defense also raised its level, holding Marlboro to 7-for-24 shooting after halftime.

"In the first half, we started off very low energy, just trying to get acclimated to the environment," Fields said. "By the second half, we were used to it and just started making plays. We know we're a good defensive team and we just started playing with more energy and more confidence."

Sophomore Alex Ratner led Marlboro with 13 points to go with four assists while Kaufman added 12 in the loss. Ratner scored nine points in the first half to lead the Mustangs into the halftime locker room with the lead.

The Scarlet Fliers have gotten off to slow starts in each of  Fagan's three years at the helm, although in his first year, they reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and last year, they righted they quickly righted the ship and competed near the top of A North.

Friday's win was an encouraging start against the Shore Conference Tournament runner-up from a year ago, but there is still plenty of work to be done, according to Fagan.

"We're still not even close (to where we need to be)," Fagan said. "We turn the ball over way to much for a team that is supposed to be ranked top five in the Shore. I don't know that we're that good yet. We have a chance to be if we take care of the ball a lot better than we did tonight. These A North games are tough though and any time you can go in and beat a good, well-coached team in there gym, you'll take it every time."


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